The Oysterquartz is a watch with a special history – it is a relic from the time of the quartz crisis. The Swiss watch industry perfected its mechanical movements until well into the 60s. The robustness and the accuracy of the movement were constantly increased, so that an emerging new technology was neither perceived nor even noticed at all.
Manufacturers such as Seiko, for example, were already working intensively on new movements controlled via a quartz. As a result, previously unknown speed accuracies were achieved and the movement was almost maintenance-free due to a battery, which supplied the movement with energy for more than a year.
The initially extremely expensive technology was suitable for mass-production from the early 70s and aided by the new precision, a modern look with the LED or later LCD digital display. And the new possibilities and precision of quartz watches was really hyped up. Who doesn’t remember the iconic Casio watches with pocket calculators, which almost everyone wanted to have. The classic mechanical watches were suddenly “old”, unfashionable and were hardly ever asked for by buyers.
This was the beginning of a crisis for the classical watch industry, which threatened their very existence. Many well-known companies, especially in Switzerland, went bankrupt and the number of employees in the traditional watch industry fell massively. Of the originally 90,000 jobs in Switzerland, only 30,000 remained within a few years. Companies that refused to do so or were unable to bear the development costs disappeared during the quartz crisis.
At this time, Rolex also felt compelled to break with tradition and come up with a quartz model for the market. At the end of 1977, the Rolex Oysterquartz was born.
Customer Catalog 1977*: For the first time the Oysterquartz is shown in the customer catalog. At the time ref. 17000 and ref. 17013 are not yet a Chronometer. The ref. 17014 and also the various versions of the gold versions are not yet introduced.
Rolex Oysterquartz Ref. 17000, bought 2005
In contrast to many other manufacturers, Rolex stayed true to its line and built an in-house quartz movement in the Oysterquartz. Experts consider the Rolex quartz movement to be one of the best ever built with a battery.
Customer Catalog 1986*: Particularly noteworthy is the dial of the “pyramids” Oysterquartz 19028, since it is the only recently built version with “pyramids”-indexes sand nowadays very rare.
The Oysterquartz was offered in the following versions:
Dealer catalog 1993*: Excerpt from the dealer catalog from 1993 with the full program of Oysterquartz.
In the Oysterquartz Datejust, the movement is 5035, while in the Oysterquartz Day-Date, the movement is 5055. The interesting thing is that Rolex largely used the in-house kit here and took the mechanism of the automatic 3035 for the 5035 movement. This mechanism had already been used in many other Rolex models, such as Submariner and Datejust, and was supplemented with the electronics and the stepper motor. The advantages of this approach were the extreme maintenance-friendly and long-lasting nature of the new Oysterquartz movement.
Another special feature is the Oysterquartz Datejust 5035 movement. While 5055 was always the certified chronometer for the Day-Date, the 5035 were the certified Chronometers only from 1981 onwards. The start of certification was accompanied by a small factory optimization. Here, the quartz crystal used in the oscillator circuit was changed into a tuning fork shape. The movements with the quartz crystal in the tuning fork shape are called Mark II movement , the “old” movements without certification Mark I movements.
The case differed visually from the classic Rolex housings, although the classic features of a Rolex such as a (fixed) bezel, a screwed case back and a bolted crown for optimum water tightness were not missing. Also the bracelet was an Oysterband with folding clasp, but this was also completely reworked and optically more integrated into the edging and thick chamfered housing. The Oysterquartz Datejust in white gold and yellow gold, on the other hand, always came with a bracelet what was similar to a Jubilee-bracelet, the Oysterquartz Day-Date in white gold and yellow gold with a bracelet that was similar to the President-bracelet.
Sharp Edges at a Rolex Oysterquartz (unworn)
The Oysterquartz was so robustly constructed that it lived up to the reputation of a Rolex as a “Tool watch.” It was even carried on some expeditions: in May 1978, for example, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. It was an almost impossible endeavor, but they succeeded as the first humans ever without the use of supplemental oxygen. On Messner’s arm was the Rolex Oysterquartz, which defied the tough conditions and worked flawlessly at over 8,000 meters and in icy cold.
Here are two pictures of Reinhold Messner with his Oysterquartz at 7300 m (24,000 feet) and Peter Habeler on the Mount Everest, of course with a Oysterquartz, too:
Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler
Two Oysterquartz advertisments to climb Mount Everest.
And also some celebrities showed up with the Rolex Oysterquartz, such as Lorin Maazel, music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with his Oysterquartz Day Date.
After a long dry spell, the end of the quartz crisis began around 1983, when two hard hit companies, ASUAG (Swiss General Motors Company) and SSIH (Société Suisse de l’Industrie Horlogère) merged under Nicolas Hayek, the insolvency administrator. Nicolas Hayek, founder and longtime president of the later Swatch Group, already recognized the potential of the highly automated production of clock movements, was looking for savings by reducing the number of necessary parts for a Swatch from 125 parts to 51 parts and had the idea of a Fashionable watch like the Swatch as the right idea at the right time to revitalize and strengthen the entire Swiss watch market.
With declining prices for quartz clocks and the corresponding wide availability, interest in the classical mechanical watch also increased. Especially in the premium and luxury sectors, the high-precision manufacture of mechanical movements was suddenly appreciated, and people were again ready to pay more money for these works of art “with a real soul.” With these watches, you could once again stand out from the broad masses and the weaker points, like the not so precise precision and the comparatively short power reserves were again accepted.
Rolex Oysterquartz Booklets
The number of quartz watches sold in the premium segment collapsed accordingly. Matthias from the R-L-X-Forum found out from his research that in 2001 Rolex with 762,174 movements built only 573 were certified quatz movements, which corresponds to 0.075% of the watches, and even in the previous few years , the annual number of Rolex COSC quartz certificates was under 1,000, bringing estimates below 0.15%. As a result, the last certificates were applied for and issued in 2001 and Oysterquartz was finally discontinued. From the catalogs the steel version disappeared in 2002 and the other models disappeared as well in 2004. However, the last production of the Oysterquartz at Rolex might have occured in 2002, since no watches are known after the K-series. The supposedly already completed new generation of quartz workings with the calibers 5335 and 5355 never came into standard production because of the very low sold sales figures and economic considerations for the standard applications.
In the meantime, the Oysterquartz is a rarity. You hardly see them on a wrist anywhere and they are offered quite rarely. Good, unpolished specimens are hard to get. The housing shape with the sharp edges and chamfers changes from extensive wear more than with the classic models and the edges round off strongly. This phenomenon is further intensified when the watch is incorrectly polished. Such a rounded case loses a lot of the charm of the original Oysterquartz and can hardly be restored. Therefore, when purchasing an Oysterquartz, special attention should be paid to the condition of case and bracelet. It should also be noted that a restoration of an Oysterquartz can be expensive. If the E-block has to be exchanged, the price of a restoration is easily 1500 Euros (as of 2017) and up.
Nevertheless, from my point of view, the Oysterquartz is currently undervalued (status 2017). You get an extremely robust watch with a fantastic (quartz) movement, which was produced only a very short time and also in comparatively small quantities. It is assumed that only about 25,000 of all models of the Oysterquartz were built. The Oysterquartz case is really pretty and is not seen on every corner. In short, you get a lot of watch for the money. So if you are interested, you should still act quickly, as it is still worthwhile nowadays.
Here are some interesting scans* from the internal magazine for concessionaires “Die Oyster” with technical information and sales arguments (issue 3/78 of December 1978):
Finally, the specifications of the watch movements 5035 and 5055:
|Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust||Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date|
|32,768Hz VCTCXO Quartz||32,768Hz VCTCXO Quartz|
|Hour, Minute, Second, Date|
Stunde, Minute, Zentralsekunde, Datum
|Hour, Minute, Second, Date, Day|
Stunde, Minute, Zentralsekunde, Datum, Wochentag
|Chronometer||COSC (erst ab/from 1981)||COSC|
|Integrierter Schaltkreis |
|UCAR 357 silveroxide, 1.55v||UCAR 357 silveroxide battery, 1.55v|
|6,5 mm||7,1 mm|
No. of jewels
|Yes, to 1000 Oersted|
Quick set date
* The scans of the catalogs and the magazine were made available by Prof. Rolex / Matthias from the RLX-Forum. THANK YOU SO MUCH!